Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 7 News List

In Haiti, Chinese police get a lukewarm reception

AFP , PORT-AU-PRINCE

A Chinese policeman of the UN peacekeeping force surveys the dock at the Cite Soleil slum of Port-au-Prince on Wednesday. Haiti's electoral process is under way after the transitional government confirmed dates for the first elections since former president Jean Bertrand Aristide left office under pressure a year ago. A UN stabilization force was sent to Haiti last year after Aristide departed.

PHOTO: AFP

It's early morning and an armored personnel carrier belonging to UN peacekeepers from China warily moves through a small market in Cite Soleil, a huge dilapidated suburb of the Haitian capital that is home to about 700,000 people.

The patrol, which also includes two vehicles with grille-covered windows, attracts little attention.

A few Haitian vendors wave as the Chinese soldiers drive by. It is because of the UN patrols that commercial activities have resumed here.

"But, we don't have any buyers," complains a woman, with a note of despair in her voice.

"This is our first mission in the Western hemisphere," says Shao Weimin, the deputy commander of the Chinese contingent.

The officer speaks proudly of the job the Chinese troops have been doing in Haiti in general and in this poverty-stricken shantytown, located close to downtown Port-au-Prince.

Cite Soleil is a stronghold of paramilitary groups known as chimeres that supported deposed president Jean Bertrand Aristide. The ex president fled Haiti about a year ago under the threat of an armed uprising and has been living in exile in South Africa ever since.

Violence routinely flares on the shantytown, but at this time of day the chimeres are hiding.

The luckiest among the youngsters of the neighborhood go to the few schools that still exist here. Others hang around a small police outpost manned by 12 Chinese police officers clad in black.

"We keep Cite Soleil secure," says Shao. "We want to bring back some order and safety to the locals here."

China has contributed 138 police officers -- 125 men and 13 women -- to the UN stabilization force that has been deployed in Haiti for eight months.

Police officers from Nepal, Pakistan and Jordan also take part in the patrols, he points out.

Shao's only foreign tongue is English, while Haitians speak French and Creole.

When a local boy comes up asking for water, he seeks help from 27-year-old interpreter Lee Hua, who sports a sidearm.

Lee knows a few sentences in Creole, but has to consult her notes often to produce answers.

Most of the time the answer is "no."

It is given every time youngsters or unemployed men ask her for cigarettes or demand her wristwatch.

However, Lee smiles all the time, and Haitians love people who smile.

As part of their public relations campaign, Chinese police officers distribute food, take care of the wounded and play soccer with local boys.

"At least the Chinese are talking to us, which cannot be said of others," says one of the local boys hanging around.

As he speaks, three UN armored carriers full of soldiers arrive in a cloud of dust

"We want all these people to go home and Aristide to return," remarks 10-year-old Lababa, who boasts of being able to handle an M-16 automatic rifle he insists he has at home.

"Life has never been the same in Cite Soleil since his [Aristide's] departure. We have a lot of weapons and we'll fight the military. They are all cowards. They hide at night in their armored carriers and retreat," the youngster says.

Shao admits that while the neighborhood is mostly calm by day, once night falls the area can become violent. Shooting occasionally erupts and people get wounded.

The Chinese officer hopes the Haitian police will soon resume patrols in Cite Soleil, but local residents might not react favorably to such patrols.

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